Josh Green: The Stars are Out at ARPA-e Innovation Summit

While former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger got a standing ovation for his rousing speech at the ARPA-e Innovation Summit this week, the unsung heroes, the real stars in the room, were the hundreds of entrepreneurs behind the next generation of cleantech innovation.

The many ARPA-e awardees among the 2000 attendees generated palpable excitement about some of the big and fundamental problems they’re addressing — from making the grid smarter to making the generation and use of energy cost competitive with what’s coming from China, Europe and emerging countries.

Government has gotten its fair share of knocks lately from all sides (justifiably or not), but ARPA-e is emblematic of how and where government can play a crucial role in fostering much needed energy innovation. You had to look no further than the exhibit space to see how a little bit of capital can go a long way in creating results, real companies. ARPA-e grants from $1 million to $3 million led to the formation of startups that, in turn, raised tens of millions of dollars in private capital. Among the success stories is OPX Biotechnologies, a Mohr Davidow company.

Let me be clear, government is not picking the winners and losers here but identifying and seeding promising technologies. The markets will ultimately decide.

Innovation is a word that gets thrown around a lot in Washington D.C., but ARPA-e is the most capable agency at DOE to define what that word means with regard to renewable technologies. As an investor in early stage cleantech companies, I came away very excited and hopeful about the future of clean energy innovation. ARPA-e’s keystone event made clear that government, venture capital, and industry each have a role to play in creating the next stars.

Josh Green is a general partner with Mohr Davidow Ventures. Opinions expressed here are entirely his own.